How to Prune a Yaupon Holly Tree


The Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) can be pruned as a large shrub or a small tree. It has attractive contorted branches that are revealed when pruned as a tree. The flowers of a Yaupon holly are not showy, but bloom for weeks and attract bees. Female plants have bright red berries in the fall. The glossy evergreen leaves do not have spines. Yaupon holly grows 15 to 25 tall and wide with a spreading canopy.

Pruning A Shrub

Step 1

Cut limbs smaller than ½ inch in diameter with hand pruners. Cut larger limbs up to 1 inch with lopping shears. Cut limbs larger than 1 inch with a pruning saw. Make cuts at a bud or joint at a 30 degree angle.

Step 2

Prune suckers at ground level with hand pruners or lopping shears. You may have to remove suckers two or three times a year because they grow vigorously from the roots of yaupon hollies.

Step 3

Perform routine pruning in late winter before new growth appears. Remove dead or diseased limbs with the proper pruning tool. Symptoms of disease include slimy spots on the bark, peeling bark, split wood, or dead or dying leaves.

Step 4

Remove crossed or rubbing limbs, as well as damaged limbs, with the appropriate pruning tools.

Step 5

Cut out old and weak limbs with the proper pruning tool to open up the interior of the plant for new growth.

Step 6

Prune wayward or elongated limbs that spoil the shape of the shrub, which should be slightly wider at the bottom than the top. Remove older branches that droop into passageways.

Pruning A Tree

Step 1

Complete Steps 1 through 5 for "Pruning A Shrub," above.

Step 2

Choose one or more upright branches for the tree trunks. The average number of trunks on Yaupon hollies is three. Prune all other upright branches at ground level with the proper pruning tool.

Step 3

Remove all the horizontal branches that are less than 4 feet high from the main trunks with the appropriate pruning tool. Step back and check that the height of the canopy seems in proportion to the trunks. You may have to remove a few more branches up the trunk to achieve a balanced tree.

Step 4

Prune older limbs that droop into passageways from the canopy with the correct pruning tool. Remove long or scraggly limbs that spoil the appearance of the canopy.

Tips and Warnings

  • The berries on Yaupon hollies are mildly toxic if eaten. They may cause vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand pruners
  • Lopping shears
  • Pruning saw


  • North Carolina State University Extension
  • Clemson Cooperative Extension

Who Can Help

  • Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs
  • Yaupon Holly
Keywords: Yaupon Holly, prune Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitora, prune Ilex vomitora

About this Author

Melody Lee worked as a newspaper reporter, copywriter and editor for 5 years. In addition, she has edited magazine articles and books. Lee holds a degree in landscape design and is a Florida master gardener. She has more than 25 years of gardening experience, which includes working at nurseries and greenhouses.